Abstinence or Sex: Twilight vs. In
Praise of Older Women
August 4, 2010
Editorial by Lewis Manalo
In Praise of Older Women is the anti-Twilight, telling the story
of a young man's sexual education in the arms of older women.
Stephen Vizinczey believes one reason his novel In Praise of Older
Women isn't in print in the U.S. is because it doesn't fit into
America's "puritanical or macho traditions."
When I was in seventh grade, during an assembly in the school cafeteria,
a pudgy man in a pink shirt told our class to wait to have sex until
marriage, adding that if we ignored his advice and had premarital
sex, we'd all get AIDS and die. With his overhead projector he showed
us scientific proof that premarital sex would kill us, even if we
used a condom.
He did not dissuade many of us from continuing to try our best to
not abstain. Little did we know that ideas about abstinence like
Mr. Pudgy's would take hold of public school sex education programs
across America. And no one then imagined that an abstinence fantasy
would take over mainstream culture in the form of The Twilight Saga.
In a nation that encourages its adolescents to embrace ignorance
when it comes to what matters, it's no surprise that while the rest
of the world has made Stephen Vizinczey's In Praise of Older Women
a bestseller and calls it a modern classic, I didn't hear of the
novel until my thirties.
In Praise of Older Women is about a young man in Post-War Hungary
receiving his sexual education in the arms of older women. András
Vajda, the young hero of the story, loves women, and he learns that
they're a much better use of his time than girls, saying:
"I had affairs with a few girls of my own age, and they taught
me that no girl, however intelligent and warm-hearted, can possibly
know or feel half as much at twenty as she will at thirty-five."
Vizinczey's novel has been reissued in over twenty countries. This
year, Penguin UK reissued the book for its forty-fifth anniversary,
but here in the U.S. the novel has been out of print for more than
a decade. Over email, Vizinczey cited some legal issues that contributed
to the book's irregular release in the United States, but he also
admits that In Praise of Older Women doesn't fit into America's
"puritanical or macho tradition[s]."
I'd have gladly relinquished my Vanilla Ice CDs to have been able
to read this book when I was thirteen. Despite the prurient nature
of the storyline, In Praise of Older Women is not concerned with
the simple mechanics of sex. From András' time as a thirteen-year-old
whoremonger for a clientele of American soldiers, through his affairs
in Communist Budapest, and on to the cold response he receives as
an émigré in Canada, every affair that he recounts
is another insight into the obscure nature of love. His first lover
is a woman in an open marriage who still loves her husband. One
chapter's title is: "On Being Promiscuous and Lonely."
Elsewhere, a prostitute named Fräulein Mozart teaches András
that "[w]hatever else sex was, it was obviously teamwork
These would have been good things to learn at thirteen years old.
There is so much more to be learned about love in In Praise of Older
Women than in Stephanie Meyer's 2,000-odd pages of "will he
bite her or won't he?" With an objectified heroine, there's
little real emotional interaction in Twilight. There's only the
ebb and flow of desire. But Vizinczey's novel gives the reader a
peek into what actual emotional entanglements look and feel like.
It's too bad that America failed to embrace an honest portrayal
of sexuality in favor of the ignorance that accompanies an abstinence-only
sex-ed curriculum. If we'd read Vizinczey's novel in middle school,
my classmates and I might've saved ourselves time wasted in ignorant
confusion. And with Twilight's commercial success, a new generation
will waste its time with idealized ignorance, fooling itself with
the notion that, "Though it's not sex, at least it's sexy."